Numbers can lie -- yet they're the best first step in determining whether a stock is a buy. In this series, we use some carefully chosen metrics to size up a stock's true value based on the following clues:

  • The current price multiples.
  • The consistency of past earnings and cash flow.
  • How much growth we can expect.

Let's see what those numbers can tell us about how expensive or cheap Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (Nasdaq: GMCR) might be, especially in light of its recently rocky ride that has seen share prices halve in two months.

The current price multiples
First, we'll look at most investors' favorite metric: the P/E ratio. It divides the company's share price by its earnings per share (EPS) -- the lower, the better.

Then we'll take things up a notch with a more advanced metric: enterprise value to unlevered free cash flow, which divides the company's enterprise value (basically, its market cap plus its debt, minus its cash) by its unlevered free cash flow (its free cash flow, adding back the interest payments on its debt). As with the P/E, the lower this number is, the better.

Analysts argue about which is more important -- earnings or cash flow. Who cares? A good buy ideally has low multiples on both.

Green Mountain has a P/E ratio of 39.1 and an EV/FCF ratio of -34.1 over the trailing 12 months. If we stretch and compare current valuations with the five-year averages for earnings and free cash flow, we see that Green Mountain has a P/E ratio of 106.0 and a five-year EV/FCF ratio of -102.5.

A positive one-year ratio of less than 10 for both metrics is ideal (at least in my opinion). For a five-year metric, less than 20 is ideal.

Green Mountain is 0-for-4 on hitting the ideal targets, but let's see how it stacks up against some of its competitors and industry mates. 


1-Year P/E

1-Year EV/FCF

5-Year P/E

5-Year EV/FCF

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters 39.1 NM 106.0 NM
Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) 25.1 27.1 43.8 37.9
Peet's Coffee & Tea (Nasdaq: PEET) 39.0 338.2 51.3 NM
Caribou Coffee (Nasdaq: CBOU) 8.2 7.9 NM 42.4

Source: S&P Capital IQ; NM = not meaningful because of losses.

Numerically, we've seen how Green Mountain's valuation rates on both an absolute and relative basis. Next, let's examine ...

The consistency of past earnings and cash flow
An ideal company will be consistently strong in its earnings and cash-flow generation.

In the past five years, Green Mountain's net income margin has ranged from 3.8% to 7.5%. In that same time frame, unlevered free cash flow margin has ranged from -9.3% to 3.5%.

How do those figures compare with those of the company's peers? See for yourself:

Source: S&P Capital IQ; margin ranges are combined.

In addition, over the past five years, Green Mountain has tallied up five years of positive earnings and one year of positive free cash flow.

Next, let's figure out ...

How much growth we can expect
Analysts tend to comically overstate their five-year growth estimates. If you accept them at face value, you will overpay for stocks. But even though you should definitely take the analysts' prognostications with a grain of salt, they can still provide a useful starting point when compared with similar numbers from a company's closest rivals.

Let's start by seeing what this company's done over the past five years. In that time period, Green Mountain has put up past EPS growth rates of 74.9%. Meanwhile, Wall Street's analysts expect future growth rates of 41.6%.

Here's how Green Mountain compares with its peers for trailing-five-year growth (because of losses, Caribou's trailing growth rate isn't meaningful):

Source: S&P Capital IQ; EPS growth shown.

And here's how it measures up with regard to the growth analysts expect over the next five years:

Source: S&P Capital IQ; estimates for EPS growth.

The bottom line
The pile of numbers we've plowed through has shown us the price multiples that shares of Green Mountain are trading at, the volatility of its operational performance, and what kind of growth profile it has -- both on an absolute and a relative basis.

The more consistent a company's performance has been and the more growth we can expect, the more we should be willing to pay. We've gone well beyond looking at a 39.1 P/E ratio, and we see that while Green Mountain's been consistently profitable in terms of earnings, its free cash flow hasn't kept up. Its operating cash flow hasn't kept up, either, but it's also spent heavily on capital expenditures. Growth over the past few years has been torrid, but the question that remains is whether future growth can support the still-high price multiples. Fellow Fools Tim Beyers and Rick Munarriz are convinced. Other Fool analysts aren't so bullish. I tend to side with the latter group, but I think we could see volatile price movements up or down in the near term. There can be disagreements -- we are The Motley Fool, after all.

If you find Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' numbers or story compelling, don't stop here. Continue your due-diligence process until you're confident one way or the other. As a start, add it to My Watchlist to find all of our Foolish analysis.

You can also see stocks that I've researched beyond the initial numbers and bought in my public real-money portfolio.

Anand Chokkavelu doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of and creating a lurking gator position in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.